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John Wesley Hyatt Collection

A description of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: DGI/MM
Date: 2006

Biographical History

John Wesley Hyatt (1837-1920) was an American manufacturer in the plastics field, and the inventor of celluloid.

Born in Starkey, New York in 1837, at the age of 16 Hyatt began work as a printer in Illinois and later in Albany, New York, where he eventually set up his own manufacturing company which became the Albany Billiard Ball Company. In his experiments, Hyatt discovered the solvent action of camphor on cellulose nitrate under moderate heat and pressure, creating celluloid. This was the basis of his 1870 patent. He also developed the necessary machinery for working his new material.

One of the first uses of the new plastics material was for making denture plates and Hyatt formed the Albany Dental Plate Company in 1870. In 1872, its name was changed to the Celluloid Manufacturing Company and in 1873 the company moved to in Newark, New Jersey.

Hyatt was awarded the Perkin Gold Medal in 1914, given by the Society of the Chemical Industry, and was posthumously inducted into the Plastics Hall of Fame in 1974.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The John Wesley Hyatt Collection consists of the Executive Committee meeting minutes of the Celluloid Company, 1890 to 1905; two bound volumes of patents obtained by John Wesley Hyatt, including one for the first celluloid billiard ball and three seperate patents regarding billiard balls, knife-handles, and other articles; six photographic portraits of Hyatt; and a booklet on Hyatt's acceptance of the Perkin Medal, 1914. Also included is a relief sculpture by Paul Manship of the John Wesley Hyatt commemorative award.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

Special Collections Research Center has numerous holdings in the areas of plastics and industrial design. Please refer to the SCRC Subject Index for a complete listing. There are also related artifacts.

Subject Headings


Hyatt, John W. (John Wesley), 1837-1920.

Corporate Bodies

Celluloid Manufacturing Company.
Plastics Hall of Fame.


Billiards -- Equipment and supplies.
Plastics industry and trade.

Genres and Forms

Minutes (administrative records)
Programs (documents)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

John Wesley Hyatt Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Transfer from National Plastics Center and Museum, 11/06/2008. Originally, gift of Dewey Rainville and James DeBenedetto, and of the John Wesley Hyatt family

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